Dwayne Grant, feature writer for the Gold Coast Bulletin wrote a beautiful piece about our day respite, while Steve Holland took great pictures of all the gang!
DICK Harker is 91. Actually, Dick Harker is a very cheeky 91.
“How often do you get to sit down and have a beautiful lady run her hands over your feet?” he says to the amusement of the women sitting beside him. “I walked in at nine o’clock and they had my shoes off in a flash and were massaging my feet. What more could you want? “This is heaven on Earth.”
This is also Living Well Day Respite Centre, a simple but beautiful concept that has changed not only Dick’s life but that of his darling wife and a couple of dozen people just like them. People who know just how emotional, tiring and relentless it is to wake up each day with an advanced chronic illness — and for the loved one who cares for them. “She’s got to put up with me seven days a week so she earns this one day,” Dick says of Rita, the woman he married 70 years ago when “til death do we part” actually meant something. “She does everything but wipe my bum. She gets every meal. She does my bandages. She does everything for me.”
One day a week though, Rita finds respite when the couple enters the four walls of this hidden gem in Arundel and finds themselves cared for and pampered in a manner they thought had passed them by. “Carers have actually commented about the fact they get (physically) touched here,” says Julie Howe, the angel who has helped make Living Well a reality. “People in their situation sometimes don’t get touched anymore, which is kind of sad. I think that’s why people love the reiki and massage (on offer). We’re very touchy-feely here.”
Julie’s story is remarkable in itself. Six years ago she started at the Hopewell Centre as a catering manager, overseeing meals for the residents of its hospice and neighbouring cafe. In recent years, she turned her attention to an on-site building that was being under-utilised and pondered how often she had heard people say they weren’t ready to enter the hospice but would relish a break — or gift a break to their carer. A seed was planted and, thanks to funding from the Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre (CRCC), a free day respite centre was born for over 65's who have a life-limiting or advanced chronic illness and live at home with the support of a carer.
“This has been the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” says Julie, who now goes by the title of Living Well program manager. “There are only two centres like this in Australia and there isn’t anyone else in Queensland doing this.” What Living Well does is open its doors to up to 15 clients and their carers from 9am-4pm each Wednesday. They can have a massage, play games or speak with counsellors. Catering staff serve up morning tea and a hot lunch. A carer might pop out for a while, but most prefer to be with kindred spirits. “What we’ve found is they’ve all become friends and that’s because they’re all in the same boat,” Julie says.
“Mary may not have anyone to talk to about the fact her husband is no longer the man she married and one day could have another stroke, but here other carers fully understand how she feels.” Nerang’s Mary O’Dea has cared for husband Kazik Zakrzewski, 69, since he had his first stroke almost five years ago. The second came two years later. Like many, she heard about Living Well through word of mouth and she’s so grateful she did. “This would be the only sense of nurturing I’ve had in five years,” the 62-year-old says as her husband plays Scrabble in the dining room. “It’s just that short amount of time when someone is doing something nice for me. It’s helped me be in a better space than I have in those five years.”
Ray Hille is listening in. The 77-year-old has cared for wife Ellen since she had a stroke 14 years ago. It was two years after they wed, four years after they met. “I’ve always been good but on January 1 this year I got anxiety and everyone said ‘Ray, you’ve had no respite’,” he admits. “I’ve had three days (off) in 14 years. The anxiety’s pulled me back a bit but I’m climbing out of it.” Has Living Well helped? Definitely. “We’re from Melbourne and when you’re our age and Ellen’s disabled, the move to the Gold Coast hasn’t worked out socially,” Ray says. “That’s why I was so pleased the first time we came here. You don’t just sit around a table and talk. You feel as though you belong.”
Julie smiles at Ray and Mary. “Their families are spending Christmas Day together,” she says. Despite only opening in May, Living Well claimed the Gold Coast Community Project prize at this month’s Volunteering Services Australia awards night.
Then there’s the future. “We’re one day a week now and we’d like to grow to two, but our goal is overnight respite,” Julie says. “We are being asked by clients for respite for a week or four days so they can go away or visit family and know their loved one is being cared for here. “There’s also a huge need for people caring for younger people so that’s another goal for next year.”
Back in the lounge, a very cheeky 91-year-old is explaining where his wife is. “She’s not well at all,” Dick says of Rita. “She’s home on her own but at least this means she’s getting a break from me today.” What are his ailments? “It would be quicker for me to tell you what’s good with me. I hurt my back 70 years ago. I’ve had that many operations it’s not funny ... I’ve got skin cancers too. “Rita’s been caring for me virtually since we were married.”
And that’s when Ellen Hille, whose husband has been by her side since that stroke 14 years ago, says something she knows all too well. “But that’s love, isn’t it?”